Expectations for the Detroit Lions’ 2021 season remain relatively low. Polling fans after the preseason, only 23 percent say their expectations have risen for the upcoming year compared to how they entered the preseason. And if you go back to those expectations from May, around 65 percent of Lions fans believed this team will finish with six wins or fewer. There are few delusions about this team. We know it could—and probably will—be a rough year for this rebuilding franchise.
But even some of the most pessimistic fans may view ESPN’s 2021 projections as a little harsh towards Detroit. Mike Clay posted his projections based on his statistical model over the weekend, and it’s safe to say the numbers were not kind for the Lions.
Per his model, the Lions have the third-toughest schedule in the NFL, but it gets even worse when he takes a look at the best/worst offenses in the league. To start, Clay projects the Lions to have the third-worst scoring offense in the league, tallying just 339 points total, or 19.9 points per game.
“Detroit finished 20th in points last season and promptly downgraded from Matthew Stafford to Jared Goff at quarterback while also wiping out nearly its entire wide receiver room,” Clay wrote. “With Tyrell Williams, Kalif Raymond and fourth-round rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown leading the WR depth chart, Detroit will have its hands full scoring points this season.”
Clay’s point is well noted. The offense certainly has disappointed this preseason, and many locally agree that the offense will take a significant step back with Goff behind center and a revamped receiving corps. That being said, the offensive line projects to be better than an already good unit from last year, and D’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson could be primed for big years. Still, I’ll give Clay a pass here, because my expectations are pretty low for the offense as well.
On the other side of the ball, the news is even worse. Clay’s projection has the Lions' defense finishing dead last for the second year in a row. Per Clay’s model, the Lions are projected to allow 463 points or 27.2 per game.
“With all due respect to Trey Flowers, the Lions’ defense is extremely short on star power,” Clay wrote. “Leaving them with a few solid players (Michael Brockers, Romeo Okwara, Jamie Collins Sr.) and major question marks otherwise. That is especially the case in a secondary that badly needs Tracy Walker III and 2020 first-round pick Jeff Okudah to bounce back in a big way.”
Nothing Clay says here is wrong. The Lions do lack star power. They do need bounce-back seasons from Okudah and Walker.
But they also heavily invested in the defensive front with veteran Brockers and rookies Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike. They’ve got a secondary who is terrifyingly young, but their confidence is booming. And they also got rid of a couple linebackers who were dragging down the middle of this defense.
I’m not saying this defense is going to great or even good, but last in the league seems a little drastic for a unit that has not only drastically changed the personnel from last year’s disaster but has assumed an entirely different philosophy.